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BANGKOK — With no curries or samosas on the menu, Charcoal Tandoor Grill & Mixology is a decidedly unusual Indian restaurant — and its originality extends beyond the menu. The vibe is hip and sophisticated, attracting a lively, international crowd of natives, expats, Indians, and visitors who relish the urban Bollywood pop tunes, playful design elements, and, most importantly, the shareable kebab-focused cuisine with nary a fried item on the menu.

Located on the fifth floor of the swank Fraser Suites Sukhumvit in the heart of Sukhumvit Soi 11, Bangkok’s buzzing nightlife district, Charcoal takes its inspiration from the streets of India. In the industrial and recycled European pine wood interior, one wall — in the private dining room — houses a spice library with 38 varieties in containers sealed with weighty vintage locks found in New Delhi’s old markets.

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As an homage to the dabbawalas who coordinate a complex home-cooked lunch delivery system to workers in Mumbai, authentic tiffin containers with elaborate color-coded markings — indicating the lunch’s origin and destination — are on display, as is a vintage delivery bicycle, and, on the walls, black-andwhite photos of the men who deliver these ubiquitous lunchboxes all across the city. Adorning the ceiling (as well as the liquor cabinets at the polished teak wood bar) are metal screens in jaali patterns, designs common in Indian mosques and architecture.

Deepanker Khosla, the executive chef, recently relocated from India to run Charcoal’s kitchen. He had worked at Peshawari, one of the foremost North Indian restaurants and noted for its kebabs. At Charcoal, he relies on locally sourced ingredients with the spices coming from both Thailand and India.

Whether dining at communal or individual tables, couples can share a pair of kebabs as a starter, along with breads, daal, and a biryani as a main course, or the Sikandri Raan, a whole leg of spring lamb with a preparation that has ancient roots. (The name “Sikander” refers to Alexander the Great, who, around 326 BC, first captured and then released Porus, a king in India, commemorating their newfound friendship with this dish.)

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Most of the kebabs pay tribute to the cuisine of the North West Frontier, a cooking style that actually has its origins in Afghanistan (when India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan were part of a greater India referred to as Hindustan). The restaurant’s Mughlai kebabs are completely different — prepared with sweeter and more aromatic spices, and not cooked in a tandoor — taking their influence from Persia (when the Moghul emperors ruled India). These include the Kakori Kebab, one of the restaurant’s signature items, made with minced mutton that is both spicy and delicately bitter from roasted cloves, with a penetrating aroma from pandanus oil.

A grilled kebab of spiced vegeta-bles and cottage cheese.
A grilled kebab of spiced vegeta-bles and cottage cheese.aj sikand

The dum biryanis are prepared over a low flame, a cooking style that originated centuries ago in India’s Awadh region (“dum” refers to steaming over hot coals) and remains customary even today in the city of Lucknow. A favorite is the Murgh Yakhni Biryani, a fragrant chicken and basmati pilau rice dish that’s said to have Persian origins, making its way to India when Kashmir was annexed in the 19th century. The daal charcoal is another specialty, prepared with black urad lentils imported from India. Slow cooked over charcoal for 24 hours, this mildly spicy dish is creamy and full-bodied, with the tomato puree lending a tanginess.

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The cocktail menu offers myriad innovative pairing suggestions. Celebrity mixologist Joseph Boroski traveled far and wide in India, finding inspiration in the country’s spice markets. Expect the unusual, both in terms of presentation and ingredients: the Bacardi-based New Delhi Duty Free is served in a jar that comes in a duty-free bag, complete with a passport. The Festival of Colors Bacardi cocktail is both sweet (from pineapple) and sour (from lime), plus there’s turmeric, paprika, and Indian kewra water (from padanus flower root). It can be paired with Murgh Malai, a tandoor chicken kebab that’s got subtle heat and a mild fermented flavor from ground white peppers, with a smooth finish from homemade crème fraîche marinated with yogurt.

No meal in India is complete without chewing paan — a preparation traditionally composed of tobacco and herbs — that acts as a breath freshener and a digestive aid. Charcoal sources its paan from Prince Paan, the renowned Delhi market where actors and politicians typically flock, and offers a cornucopia of flavors, from chocolate to butterscotch.

Charcoal has created an Indian menu that not only defies expectations, but also transports diners to an authentic India that melds the traditional with the contemporary, and a touch of the playful. One more kebab, please.

CHARCOAL TANDOOR GRILL &
MIXOLOGY
Fraser Suites Sukhumvit, 38/8 Sukhumvit Road Soi 11,

Bangkok. 011-66-89-307-1111,
charcoalbkk.com


Jeanine Barone can be reached at jbarone2000@gmail.com.

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